My wife and kids are not the most important people in my life
We look at our spouses, children, and parents as the people we love most. In every culture, marriage and blood relations are the closest bonds one can have. In Chinese culture, the most important societal building block is the family unit.
That's also true in Christian culture. After all, marriage is a spiritual covenant. Our children are a gift from God to raise in the LORD. And honoring parents is the fourth commandment. In seminary I was taught to prioritize my life in the following sequence: God, family, and then ministry. I understood (at least intellectually) that my church work should not jeopardize the more important ministry of loving my wife and children.
Our Bay Area Discipleship Training Conference (DTC3) this past weekend centered on the theme of how we love each other as new creations in Christ. And one of the teachers objected to the notion that family is our most important earthly relationship. Peter said:
Church is the most important thing in life
Blood and marriage ties are temporary. They will not last beyond the grave. In heaven, I won't be married to my wife. Nor will I be a father to my kids. Nor will I be a son of my parents.
Rather I will celebrate in eternity with a host of siblings and it will be a ridiculous party with lots of brothers and sisters. This is the only relationship that endures forever. The church is God's only avenue for reaching the world. The making of disciples is how the church - the kingdom of God - expands.
The church is not a place you go
It's not a gathering you attend. It's not an activity. When I talk about church, I don't refer to an organization, an earthly institution, any particular denomination, a building with a cross, or a Sunday worship service.
When I refer to the church, I mean all the followers of Jesus in the world. I mean the movement of the Holy Spirit at work in the hearts of people. I mean the reign of God made manifest in people's lives. It's meant to be a mystery. The Bible doesn't fully define it.
The church redefines every relationship
That means the church invades wherever the kingdom of God is being made manifest. You don't bring church to your family as another weekly activity; you make your family part of the church. This is a subset of my greater calling to love the body of Christ. In fact, my love for the family must not jeopardize my love for the church as this is part of the cost of being a disciple.
Thus, this calling does not excuse me from being a neglectful father or husband - I have a unique calling on this earth to make disciples of my wife and children and present them righteous in Christ. I only love my family because I am commanded to love the church.
We don't understand how great the church is.
A single woman in her forties commented how if the church functioned properly, then she wouldn't feel such a void being part of the community. That hit me hard. Asian churches and suburban evangelical culture place a high emphasis on marriage and children as evidenced by the many programs built around this demographic. It is so easy to feel left out, neglected, or invisible.
But I think my friend was hinting at something deeper than discrimination. As Christians, we look at marriage (and dating) and children as the primary means our relational and self-actualization needs are met. Christian leaders believe, in words and in action, that having a spouse and children completes people in a way that being single cannot. This is a bastard view of how the church functions.
God designed the church to complete us. The body of Christ is meant to meet the relational and self-actualization needs of its members - whether black or white, male or female, single or married, childless or not. We, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, with the unconditional love of the Father are called to love and care for each other. We need each other like the hand needs the foot and the mouth needs the ear.
I've always had a hard time telling people who aren't part of my immediate family that I love them. Those words feel as if they must be reserved for certain ties. And it's true but the special bond isn't blood or marriage. Those words are reserved for the church.
I baptized my son on Easter. Before the ceremony, I gave him a long hug and jokingly ignored his friend Eric who got baptized as well. I don't regret giving special attention to Caleb but he's just one of the many brothers I look forward to spending eternity with.
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. - Ephesians 1:22-23